This week’s Revisited addresses an ongoing question for me. It first appeared here in 2019.
This Labor Day weekend has me pondering, as someone who doesn’t bring home a regular paycheck, what is the work that I do? How do I — or am I — contribute(ing) to the good of society? Most importantly, am I contributing to the good of God’s kingdom?
It’s timely that the homily I heard today spoke of true humility — that is, honesty about who it is that God created me to be. “It is futile to try to manipulate one’s place in the world,” I heard. How many years did I spend trying to do The. Right. Thing. whether or not it felt like it was coming from a place of honesty from deep within my soul? I’m talking about virtuous endeavors: making a particular retreat, joining a particular religious study group, working for the church, or otherwise saying yes to something and realizing later that my gut response to some of these things went as deep as a feeling of resentment. In my head it was easy to think that in every situation like these I was, without a doubt, doing what God would want me to do. Then why was my deepest self resentful?
Please keep reading, and hear me out. I am not saying that these things didn’t end up being good for me (and good for God’s kingdom) in some way. I believe it’s possible to find God in any situation. What I’m saying is, that these days I’m trying to discern more carefully how God is calling me to act (this is the important part) by using my natural gifts and talents. Does God call me out of my comfort zone? Most certainly. For instance, here, I’m using my gifts of writing and self-reflection in an endeavor to facilitate your own time of reflection on this topic. Out of my comfort zone is me being honest in this public way and accepting that some readers may misunderstand my message — or flat out disagree with me.
But this is a topic I am willing to take a risk on. I see people near and dear to me running themselves to a frazzle, going from one virtuous task to another; and when they finally stop for a moment, they often vent about being too busy and not appreciated. This is a red flag from your soul, my friends. There are many, many more good things that we could do than there are hours in the day. We are not all meant to do all of them.
If studying is not naturally gratifying for a person, maybe joining a Bible study is not the way God is calling them closer to himself. If a person is afraid of public speaking, God is likely not calling them to be a lector — no matter that there may be a need for more lectors in that parish. These people surely have other gifts, like a love of cooking (perhaps volunteer to prepare funeral meals) or a love of gardening (perhaps grow flowers to decorate the church).
If any of this seems scandalous to you — for instance, that Bible study is not good for everyone — I hope you will spend a few minutes in humble, honest contemplation and ask yourself if the ways that you are intending to do God’s work are filling you up or wearing you out. Personally, I am filled up when I write, even things that people I love and respect may find difficult or disagreeable; and I feel absolutely depleted participating in almost any group situation, even a religious one.
To circle back to what humility has to do with all of this, here are a couple of other nuggets from that homily: “Humility calls us to purify our motives. To be humble is about our relationship with God.” Ah, that last sentence says so much to me. Being humble is not about going out of my way to be of service to another — humility is not about the “other” at all. Humility is about my relationship with God. For example, I believe it to be a truer act of humility if I were to decline to lead a Bible study (knowing that my gifts aren’t in leadership) than it would be for me to accept (because I don’t want someone to think poorly of me). In this scenario my motivation to accept would not be to bring myself and others closer to God, but to make sure people think well of me. It therefore would not fit under the umbrella of true humility and honesty.
True humility is about our relationship with God, not with others. You may find this idea to be a helpful gauge by which to measure how to respond to the next virtuous opportunity to present itself. Are you saying yes to this Bible study, this favor asked of you, this invitation in order to maintain a certain type of relationship with the person asking? Or are you saying yes because this new opportunity speaks to your innermost being — where God calls you to be in relationship with him? Be honest in your answer, and realize that it might feel uncomfortable — especially if the answer is no.
My answer to the questions posed at the beginning is yes, I am working for the good of God’s kingdom (and therefore, society) in the ways he has called me, uniquely, to do so. Yes, I sometimes wonder if people think I don’t measure up as a Good Christian, because I am not drawn to disciplined prayer styles, the latest book by bishop so-and-so, and joining groups at church. But, intending to live a life of true humility, I work to set aside perceptions of being judged, and instead reflect honestly at each opportunity as to whether the situation is one where God and I can continue our dialog in the relationship that is uniquely ours.